As always, while we won’t spoil this episode of Game of Thrones we will be mentioning plot details to date. If you haven’t played previous episodes you’d do well to give them a shot or brace for spoilers. You have been warned!
Throughout our time with Telltale’s Game of Thrones series, comparisons to the television series are all but compulsory. When you assume the trappings of your live-action counterpart, you have to accept the other traditions of the series. So, with the penultimate episode of the game series we must look at the tradition set by the series – that of the mega-budget ninth episode. Heads will roll for sure… but possibly not in-game.
After the previous episode held some genuinely tough decisions, it’s a shame to see that A Nest of Vipers doesn’t have quite the same impact. That’s not to say there aren’t pivotal choices to decide; it’s just that the Forresters remain an unlikeable bunch, either ciphers for Game of Thrones stereotypes or just plain dull. With most of the primary cast appearing, this episode should have been a rip-roaring highlight; a battle of minds as well as muscle. What action occurs is welcome, especially with parts of the story remaining stagnant and uninteresting.
Moreso than previous episodes, A Nest of Vipers feels compartmentalised by character, each thread of plot having one pivotal scene and not a great deal else. Mira still has the weakest plotline, embroiled in all-or-nothing court politics. Asher’s thread, set in a Meereen torn apart by Daenerys’ incursion, remains a highpoint if only because of the change of scenery.
The crux of the problem with Telltale’s series is that everything has an air of inconsequence – not the feeling they likely wanted to imbue with a game solely built on the concept of choice. George R.R. Martin’s propensity to murder any beloved character meant we entered the series guarded, ready not to build any strong ties. The first episode and it’s bloody despatch of an important family figure confirmed those fears, raising the emotional firewall. Five episodes in, empathy is hard to stretch across a handful of playable characters. The Walking Dead asked you to inhabit Lee; Game of Thrones casts you as four family members, of varying likeability.
Not only that, but this series has stripped away much of the mechanics that pushed the game beyond a branching-storyline into something requiring more thought than mulling over a few dialogue options. There’s almost nothing resembling a puzzle in this episode; instead you wander from cutscene to cutscene with the occasional QTE or dialogue option. Wallowing in the harsh realism of the Game of Thrones universe is great fun but these characters are literally second-rate. Apologies, Forresters, but you’d be relegated to one of the extraneous family trees printed in the back of each novel.
This subsequently hammers home the realisation that, no matter what you choose, it will not and can not affect the main plot as presented in the TV show and novels. This wouldn’t matter were the Forresters a family that weren’t stark copies of Ned’s crew. We’ve said it before, but there were so many routes that Telltale could have taken to depict the Forresters. Instead, we get another dour Northern family, morally righteous but put upon by the bloody politics of the day. There are brief moments of bristling tension – Ramsay Bolton is an evil bastard in whatever medium he appears and his performance and appearance in A Nest of Vipers is repugnantly enthralling. The same cannot be said of everyone else – performances are fine but it is their actions that unfortunately do not speak louder than their words.
A Nest of Vipers contains some great action beats that are much appreciated after a few clumsily paced scenes. There’s a heart-pounding fight sequence at the midway point and a couple of other battles. However, there’s a strange conflict within the narrative itself – all of this action, at times failable, really highlights how the game is happy to let you die and retry and some points while dictating when the deaths are a fundamental part of the plot at others. Choices seem more blatantly signposted than ever. “This isn’t a QTE”, the game seems to flag up,”this is an IMPORTANT MOMENT.” And so you have thirty seconds to make a snap decision, when you might have seen this person die repeatedly for not tapping X quickly enough moments before.
By a weird quirk of scheduling coincidence, Game of Thrones also suffers in comparison to Life is Strange – a series that looks to release its episodes within a week of Telltale’s finest. Life is Strange is the water-cooler game of the summer, taking bold strides in narrative and gameplay while looking amazing. Loathe to say it, but Game of Thrones feels cheap in comparison; a licensed product with celebrity endorsements that looks rough next to Dontnod’s heartfelt story permabaked in the Golden Hour sun.
With one more episode to go it would be remiss to say Game of Thrones hadn’t served up a handful of tough decisions in a familiar wrapping. Problem is that the storyline does not feel like it’s barreling towards a resolution and that could mean a season 2 on the way. The fact this feels like a chore is testament to a story that never engaged nor provoked. All men must die goes the Westerosi idiom. And I really couldn’t care less anymore.